ALTHOUGH our crime problem has taken years in the making, Prime Minister Christie campaigned in the 2012 general elections on the promise that if given the government his party would produce a crime free country.
Obviously, the majority of Bahamians did not understand the problem. If they had, they would have known that crime was so entrenched in our islands that no single man or party had the answer that could either reduce or eradicate it. Nor could a government do it alone unless it had the full support of every segment of society. In this fight there is no room for party politics.
Before being voted out of office, the FNM introduced a bundle of crime bills to stiffen the law, and increase penalties in an effort to reduce the number of criminals on the streets. An amended Bail Act, for example, took the discretion from magistrates to grant bail in serious cases, particularly where guns were involved. Rape offences, for example, carried a sentence from 15 years to life — and this time life meant the whole of a man’s natural life, not just 25 years.
The then Opposition — now the Christie government— did not agree with the bills. Too harsh, it was said.
Even before the first parliament had convened, only a few short days after the 2012 general election, the newly appointed Minister of National Security — Dr Bernard Nottage – announced that his government would review the stiff crime bills passed by the FNM the previous year.
“Everything is under review,” Dr Nottage announced. “A lot of the persons who have been – I can’t call them victims – who have been convicted have made certain approaches to us about the severity of some of the sentences.”
Obviously, the new laws had the intended bite that was worrying the criminal. The desired results were being achieved, but here we had a new security minister, whose party had campaigned on stiffer sentences for criminals, now consulting with criminals who were complaining about the severity of their sentences. It was obvious that the new government was out of its depth, had no plan and was flying pilotless on a “wing and a prayer”.
On May 16, the FNM said: ”The PLP campaigned asking for stiffer sentences for criminals. After a week which recorded a record nine murders, the Government having consulted with convicts has now determined sentences enacted by the FNM are too tough.”
The PLP was sticking with its belief that Urban Renewal 2.0 was the magic wand that would save this country from itself. As crime grew to frightening proportions, Prime Minister Christie recently had to admit that solutions to the problem had to be found. This inferred that the PLP never had the answer.
In the past 13 months, 49 persons charged with murder have been out on bail. Dr Nottage told members of the House this week that, in the past five years, 305 murder accused were released on bail by the courts. The courts – unable to handle more cases efficiently for various reasons — have been a big part of the problem.
Damien Gomez, State Minister of Legal Affairs, has acknowledged that judges have to work more efficiently. He said that with five criminal courts operating in the past 12 months, it was alarming that only 89 cases have been completed. He would have expected around 200 to 250 cases to be removed from the court calendar in a year. The courts have major problems. They need a lot of attention. From reports that we have heard, jury tampering has reached such epidemic proportions that juries should be eliminated in murder cases. These cases should be heard by a panel of three judges.
To alleviate the problem, Mr Christie has announced that government will appoint 20 more judges, who are obviously expected to quickly reduce the judicial case load. Of course, defence lawyers who are out to play the system are another unhealthy virus in the halls of justice.
It has been discovered in most of today’s murder cases that the dead body when found is wearing an ankle bracelet and the murderer, if not also with an ankle bracelet, is “well known to the police”. In police jargon, that means that he too has a criminal record — and usually a violent one. These are the persons who are giving this country a reputation of a crime polluted archipelago.
At present, the only persons efficiently reducing the court calendar are the criminals who are eliminating each other in the cross-fire of the streets.
It is obvious that when a man on bail is sent back to the streets he cannot get a job to support himself. So, in fact, on his release he has been condemned to continue his life of crime just to survive. The only way that crime can be reduced is to keep such criminals off the streets. However, the prison is already too full to accommodate them. This is another major problem with which the legislators have to wrestle.
Suddenly, more than a year later, Dr Nottage has awakened to reality. He is now talking tough. If he had done this in the beginning this country would not be in such a confused state. He now wants to close the Cash for Gold shops — the outlet for most of the stolen jewellery— and have an amnesty to get the guns off the streets.
At long last, Prime Minister Christie has accepted that the PLP alone do not have the answers. He told the House this week that Opposition leader Dr Hubert Minnis has written him a letter promising his party’s support in the fight to remove criminal elements from our communities.
“The safety of our homes and streets,” said Mr Christie, “is everybody’s business. We call upon all Bahamians, all persons within our borders and Her Majesty’s loyal opposition to join us in these efforts to restore safety and rebuild respect for our laws and legal system.”
It is hoped that, if only for its own sake, this island will come together and seriously fight crime. That means full cooperation with the police.